All the World’s a Fair

Architect Paul Thiry rendering of lighting panels for the Gayway at the Century 21 Exposition / Source: Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives, Century 21 Exposition Collection

 By Guest Blogger Lauren Perez

Did you know the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair had an “adult” puppet show; did you even know that was possible? And that it took 467 cement trucks less than 12 hours to fill the foundation hole for the Space Needle—the largest continuous concrete pour attempted in the West? Or that over 100 architects, landscape architects, exhibit designers, artists, contractors, and engineers from around the world created the fairgrounds and its exhibits. I had the opportunity to learn all this and more during the month I spent sifting through books, magazines, advertisements and other publications in order to prepare research for a lecture series sponsored by Historic Seattle and Docomomo WEWA, which will run during next year’s 50th Anniversary of the World’s Fair. The Fair was Seattle’s debut to the world; on the local level, it transformed the city into what we know it as today. The Monorail and the Space Needle, remainders from the fair, are synonymous with Seattle. But it was also a moment of escapism during the tense period of the Cold War, as well as a stage for architects, artists, scientists and engineers to experiment and showcase their talents.

My research taught me a lot about Seattle and its history and architecture. But the overall internship with Historic Seattle taught me that just as it takes a village to build a village, even if it’s only a 74-acre fair, and it takes another village of architects, historians, preservationists, photographers, and community members to document, organize and present the products of the first village. As a grad student, this is my second professional internship in the field of historic preservation, and working with Historic Seattle impressed upon me, even further, that successful historic preservation is a community effort. It involves local, regional, statewide, countrywide and worldwide communities of dedicated parties. Due to good timing and mentoring by Historic Seattle’s Director of Preservation Services, I had the honor and privilege of meeting and having dinner with several of the National Trust for Historic Preservation directors and trustees, including Anthony Wood, one of my Columbia professors, as well as staff of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, members of the Seattle Center Foundation’s Next Fifty History Committee, Knute Berger, journalist and writer-in-residence for the Space Needle, Susan Boyle, principal architect at BOLA Architecture + Planning, and Graham Syed, architectural photographer. Yes, they are professionals, but the hours, dedication and love they have for history and architecture is inspiring to someone just starting out in the field. It’s clear that this is not just a job, but worth the extra hours they put in.

In class we often have to work on group projects with students from the preservation, planning, and real estate development programs. It’s a process that can be frustrating and sometimes in the vacuum of the classroom it can be hard to tell what the professional world will be like. It was great to see what role the Historic Seattle staff, and preservation in general, play in the community. So often people who really care about a cause can become blinded to other opinions; it was a valuable experience to see Seattle preservation in action and the effort that was made to bring everyone to the table in order to find a solution that achieved the goals of preservation without trying to alienate any parties. As I researched the relationship between the World’s Fair creators, I realized that it was not unlike the relationships that occur today—I can’t wait to play my part.

Lauren Perez served as Historic Seattle’s World’s Fair Intern during the spring of 2011.  In 2010 she graduated, with honors, from the University of Southern California, with a double major in Print Journalism and History and a minor in Business. She now attends Columbia University in the City of New York where she is pursuing a dual MS/MS in Historic Preservation and Urban Planning. She looks forward to returning to Washington after completing her graduate degrees.